UK hit hard as demand for commercial vehicles remains weak

The UK has experienced one of the biggest downturns in demand for new commercial vehicles in Europe this year as the coronavirus continues to have a severe impact on sales, new figures have revealed.

Registrations for new commercial vehicles was down 20% overall across the 27 EU countries year-on-year in June, according to figures from the ACEA. But the decline was less pronounced than in previous months as lockdown measures were lifted, and demand for vans appears to be bouncing back quicker than for trucks.

Three out of the four largest markets in the EU posted double-digit percentage declines last month: Germany (30%), Spain (24%) and Italy (13%). However, the UK registered a 34% fall in sales year-on-year.

The UK’s poor performance may be in part down to other countries starting to lift lockdown measures sooner than the UK was able to, so dealerships stayed closed longer in the UK.

Of the EU nations, 26 recorded a year-on-year fall in demand for commercial vehicles, as did the three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland).

The only country to buck the trend was France, who recorded a 2% increase in sales. This was largely down to its sales of vans under 3.5 tonnes, which were up 8%. France is the largest EU market for such vehicles.

Looking at the first half of the year, commercial vehicle registrations in the UK fell by 34%, largely down to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic from March onwards. All 27 EU nations registered double-digit falls in sales, with all the major markets badly affected, with Spain’s sales falling by 45%, Italy by 35%, France by 32% and Germany by 29%. The UK – which left the EU at the end of January – fared worse than all those markets, with sales contracting by 45%.

Van sales rebounding

While commercial vehicles sales are showing early signs of recovery, some sectors are faring better than others, in particular the LCVs up to 3.5 tonnes.

In June, demand for vans declined by 10% to 142,799 units. But this was a major improvement on the 41% drop registered in May. Several nations had sales up year-on-year: other than France, sales in Belgium were up 8%, 6% in Romania and 3% Luxembourg.

But it was a mixed picture, with sales in Spain and Germany struggling – down 20% and 18% respectively. Again, the UK performed worse than its major European rivals, registering a 25% fall in sales.

In the year to date, the market for vans shrank by 32% across the EU, with Spain particularly hard-it (down 46%), along with Italy (36%) – two of the nations hit hardest in Europe by the coronavirus. Similarly, the UK’s sales were down by 45%, selling just under 109,000 units.


Other sectors have not fared so well. Demand for LCVs between 3.5 and 16 tonnes in the UK fell by three quarters in June compared to the same time last year, with just 2,117 units sold.

This was repeated in the EU, where demand more than halved in the EU year-on-year in June, down from 43,876 units in June 2019 to 20,064 units last month. Germany – the leading market for this kind of vehicle – recorded a higher percentage decline (56%) than in May. Other major markets experienced a similar drop in demand, with Spain seeing a shrinkage of 55%, Italy 48% and France 34%.

But even without the coronavirus effect, sales were declining – ACEA reported that this is the 12th consecutive month of declining sales.

The UK also performed worse than the EU average and the major truck markets across the first six months of the year, with sales down more than 51% compared to the first half of 2019. In the EU, registrations were down 42%, with France (down 39%), Germany (38%), Spain (36%) and Italy (34%) all showing significant declines.

UK HGV sales plummet

The HGV over 16 tonnes sector was also severely hit in June, and again the UK fared worst of the major markets, with sales down by 76%. This was significantly more than the overall picture in the EU, where registrations were down by 56%, with Germany (down 57%), Spain (56%) and Italy (52%) all badly hit. Only Cyprus posted growth, but that is a tiny market and only one more truck was sold month-on-month.

Across the first half of the year, sales were down 44% in the EU, but in the UK they plunged by 53%, with just 11,396 units shifted. This decline was appreciably worse than in Germany (down 41%), France (41%), Spain (37%) and Italy (34%).

The bus and coach sector followed a similar pattern to the trucks. Sales in the EU were down 41% year-on-year in June, but the UK market plummeted by 71%. But these figures were an improvement on May, when the UK was down 87% year-on-year and the EU down 56%. However, for the year to date, the UK fares better – although this is all relative – down 34% compared to the EU’s 35%.

Dan Parton
Dan Parton
Dan Parton is a former editor of Truck & Driver, the UK’s biggest selling truck magazine. He is now writes for The Van Expert and The Truck Expert.

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